The short answer is technically yes, you can earn scholarships without the FAFSA. However, this does not answer the question fully. Here are a few things you should know about the relationship between FAFSA and scholarships. And more importantly, why we strongly recommend filling out the FAFSA if you’re applying to college or are already in college.
How Scholarships Are Awarded
Most schools don’t require students to fill out the FAFSA to qualify for merit scholarships. However, it’s a mistake to presume that this is standard practice. Scholarship policies vary from one college to another. Some colleges may not offer merit aid to students who have not filled out the FAFSA. Additionally, some private scholarships require the FAFSA too.
Why Some Colleges Require the FAFSA for Scholarships
There are several different reasons why some colleges require the FAFSA for awarding scholarships.
Colleges that require the FAFSA use the information on the form to screen applications. Some colleges use it to verify citizenship so that only citizens and those eligible for Federal aid are considered.
Other colleges use the FAFSA to make sure that the student has maximized their need-based aid. These colleges won’t consider you for merit-based aid without the FAFSA because it indicates that you don’t need financial aid.
Still others use the FAFSA information as a deciding factor for students who are on the borderline for merit scholarships. If, for example, three students are tied for the scholarship award. A student who has maximized their need-based aid on the FAFSA will get preference because the family perceives a need. If you didn’t fill the FAFSA, it indicates you don’t need the financial aid. In this situation, you would lose out on the federal student aid as well as the scholarship award.
Why You Should Fill Out the FAFSA Every Year
All experts unanimously advice all college students to fill out the FAFSA every year. This is regardless of whether or not you’re applying for merit scholarships. And regardless of whether or not your parents can afford to pay the fees from their savings.
These are just some of the reasons why filling the FAFSA every year is so important.
You may have won a scholarship that helps cover the cost of tuition for the current year. But most scholarships are not recurring. You have to apply again the next year. What if you don’t qualify the next year? If you haven’t applied for the FAFSA either, the only alternative would be to take expensive personal loans.
Your financial need may change from one year to the next. You may not need or qualify for aid in the current year. However, a lot can happen between now and the next year. Your parents’ income may change. The cost of college may change depending on your program. You may decide to transfer. Your sibling may start college in the next year or two. Any one of these could change your need for financial aid.
Check out our free question-by-question FAFSA guide!